Memo From: Judy Erickson/Nathan Zacharias
Re: Day on the Hill/Omnibus Bills
April 12, 2019
This is a lengthy update going into the Legislative break. Please stay with us and read to the end.
Day on the Hill Recap
The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition held its third annual Day on the Hill Event on April 3. If you were one of the dozens of people that came to Saint Paul to hear from state leaders and meet with legislators, we would like to say thank you again for another successful event! If you couldn’t make it, there are still ways to get involved and make a difference in this year’s push for full funding of the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.
The Day on the Hill started off with attendees gathering in the basement of the State Capitol where we heard Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove give a strong commitment to fight for broadband funding as part of DEED’s new vision for a technology-driven modern Minnesota economy. Sen. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth) and Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-Int’l Falls)—our DFL lead authors on HF 7/SF 9—stopped by to speak about why broadband is important in their districts and how it remains a priority for the DFL to fully fund the grant program. Sen. Mark Koran (R-North Branch), our chief author on SF 9 also spoke about a new broadband policy bill he introduced and how it would address some issues with the grant program like the challenge process and hard-to-serve areas. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) spoke more broadly about the difficulties of a smaller than expected budget surplus, their commitment to not raising taxes, and how broadband funding fits into the larger discussion on the state’s biennial budget. Finally, Office of Broadband Executive Director Danna Mackenzie hosted a Q&A session before attendees met with their legislators in the afternoon.
In addition to our attendees, we also want to thank all the speakers that took time during one of the busiest weeks of the year to talk with us about this important issue.
Call to Action
Earlier we mentioned that there are still ways for you to make an impact on the budget process. We’re asking you to make your voice heard in a few ways. Write a letter to the editor or op-ed in your local paper about why we need broadband funding or how access to world-class, affordable broadband has made a difference in your community. Attend a town-hall forum in your district during the Easter/Passover break and talk to your legislator about broadband funding. Legislators are using this time at home to gather stories and information that will inform how they vote in the coming weeks. Gather community members and request an “in-district” meeting.
Senate Ag Committee
The Senate Agriculture and Housing Finance Committee held a hearing on the committee’s omnibus finance bill SF 2226 (which includes $30 million in one-time funding for broadband) on April 3. Day on the Hill attendees who stayed through the afternoon were able to see Vince Robinson from the Coalition testify before the committee. His message was simple: thank you, but $30 million is not enough. The message was reiterated by DEED Commissioner Steve Grove and others who know the feast and famine nature of one-time funding will delay access to broadband for rural Minnesota.
Several members of the committee spoke up about the low $30 million figure. Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Mpls) spoke that broadband was important for metro businesses to do business in rural Minnesota. Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin) offered an amendment to the omnibus bill to change it to $70 million as reflected in HF 7/SF 9 and the Governor’s budget proposal. However, the amendment was not added to the bill.
- $30 million means a one-year delay in meeting the state’s 2022 speed goals; further delaying even more meeting the state’s 2026 speed goals
- $30 million means an estimated 14,500 homes and businesses will go unserved over the biennium at the reduced funding level.
Senate Finance Committee
SF 2226 was heard by the Senate Finance Committee on April 10 and 11, where Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), Senate Agriculture Committee Chair, presented the bill. He reiterated his desire to have more funding for broadband once negotiations with the House and Governor begin. Commissioner Grove testified again and reminded committee members that broadband funding shouldn’t be controversial, that we can and should do more. Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center), Senate Finance Chair, agreed saying “broadband is not controversial, we just had to live within our [funding] target.”
Sen. Dick Cohen (DFL-St.Paul) offered an amendment for $70 million for broadband. He referenced the testimony of Commissioner Grove and Commissioner Peterson about how important broadband is to all Minnesotans. This sparked a robust discussion on the part of committee members. Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) said broadband was important to rural renaissance, Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) said she understood its important. Republican members added that they “had to live with the budget targets and that a $30 million investment showed their support.” Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), said “budget targets were a choice.” The amendment failed on a roll-call vote, R’s against, D’s yes. The bill was passed and sent to the Senate floor for further action.
House Broadband Bill
HF 7 was heard by the Ways and Means Committee on April 8 and was amended into the House Jobs Omnibus Finance Bill, HF 2208. Discussion in Ways & Means indicated ongoing bi-partisan support for the broadband program. Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) spoke that he was supportive and thought the decision to not work on broadband policy this year was a good choice. Rep. Carlso Mariani (DFL-St.Paul) told a story about why it’s just as important to the metro area as it is to greater MN. He works with a state-wide non-profit whose treasurer is from southwest MN; that person has to travel to St.Paul for meetings because broadband is not sufficient to support tele-meetings.
Legislators will leave town this weekend for a week-long Easter/Passover break. When they return on April 23, they will have just four weeks before the May 20 adjournment to hammer out the differences between House and Senate budget bills. First, both the House and Senate will have to pass their respective omnibus bills. Second, they will have to match the bills up and appoint conference committees for each committee’s budget bill. Then, the House, Senate, and Governor must negotiate global budget targets, meaning all parties agree on how much each area of the budget can spend. Conference committees can then begin crafting bills that meet the global targets. When they work out the differences between the House and Senate budget bills, the bills will be sent back to the floor for a vote and then on to the Governor’s desk for final approval.
While a joint decision was made to include policy language in budget bills, we will not have a giant omnibus bill that funds all of state government like last year. Nevertheless, there is a wide chasm of differences between the House, Senate and Governor.
As you know, the House position for broadband is $70 million and the Senate position is $30 million. Governor Walz is also at $70 million. All three positions are one-time funding, so getting this into the base budget of DEED will likely prove to be elusive. Clearly, each body believes its important and that broadband funding is not a partisan issue; there is bi-partisan support.
Our conversations with decision-makers are ongoing. Look for updates and action alerts as negotiations get underway in early May. Together we can get this done.
Governor’s Broadband Task Force
Governor Walz renewed the Governor’s Broadband Task Force last week via executive order. The Coalition believes that the Task Force is vital to ensuring Minnesota meets its statutory speed goals, produces cutting edge reports that inform policy makers, and provides a space for stakeholders to discuss broadband policy. Thank you Governor Walz!